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article imageNintendo wanted the Switch to run Android

By James Walker     Mar 24, 2017 in Technology
Nintendo originally wanted its new Switch games console to run Android, Cyanogen's chairman has claimed. The company abandoned its plans when Cyanogen refused to help it build a special Android distribution focused around gaming.
The unexpected choice of operating system was revealed by Kirt McMaster, Executive Chairman of Cyanogen, in a series of tweets. Cyanogen is responsible for creating one of the most successful third-party Android distributions to date, although the company has now ceased development of its own operating system.
In a since deleted tweet, McMaster said Nintendo approached Cyanogen during the company's "early days." The exact timing hasn't been disclosed but it can be assumed this was during initial development of what's now the Switch. Nintendo asked whether Cyanogen would help it create an Android-based OS for its upcoming portable console. McMaster "told them to stick it."
Faced with a refusal from Cyanogen, it seems as though Nintendo eventually abandoned its Android plans altogether. The console is now based on in-house software. Some components of Android still made it in though, including the operating system's multimedia framework and web viewer controls. McMaster described the Switch as "mostly custom kernel" with "bits of Android."
A selection of phones running Cyanogen OS
A selection of phones running Cyanogen OS
Nintendo hasn't confirmed McMaster's claims but there's no reason to suspect the events didn't play out as reported. The rough timeline matches up with the Switch's development and there are still tell-tale indicators that it once ran Android.
Notably, the Switch uses an NVIDIA Tegra X1 processor, the same chip that powers NVIDIA's own Shield Android-based console. The Tegra isn’t widely used in other kinds of device. Combined with the Android software components, it looks like the Switch was once built as a highly-optimised Android product tailored to gamers' needs.
If Cyanogen had agreed to aid Nintendo, the Switch may have ended up very different to today's retail version. Beyond McMaster's tweets, nothing is known of the original console. Android would probably have been extensively customised for the Switch but key elements may have ended up being preserved.
Nintendo could have included access to the Play Store, letting users access the vast array of media and entertainment apps available on Android. As it stands, the Switch has none. While Nintendo has said they are on the way, the absence of streaming services is a notable weakness for the console.
The Switch in its current mostly-not-Android state is still flying off shelves. The latest batch of units delivered to Amazon today was again sold out within an hour of being made available. Nintendo is said to be ramping up production to meet demand but so far there are no signs of widespread availability being achieved anytime soon.
More about Nintendo, nintendo switch, cyanogen, Android, Gaming
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